The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, which tackles a wide range of offences including online harassment and was first introduced by Labour Party TD Brendan Howlin in 2017 was passed in December of last year.
This Bill criminalises the sharing of intimate images without consent. It has become informally known as “Coco’s Law” after Nicole Fox Fenlon, 21, who died by suicide following a prolonged period of online abuse in 2018. Ms Fox’s mother, Jackie Fox, has campaigned for stricter punishment measures for online abuse.
The Justice Minister thanked Jackie Fox for her advocacy of the issue. Ms McEntee also thanked Mr Howlin for championing the bill. Welcoming the Bill, Mr Howlin said the new regulations are very important as technology advances and that he is thinking of families who have been affected by online abuse. “This is a very important piece of legislation. Our harassment laws have not changed since the advent of text messaging, and we now live in a very different age in terms of online communication.
“Today I am thinking most of the parents and family members who worked with me to ensure this became law, in honour of lost daughters, sons and family members, and all those who have been damaged by online abuse.
“We all know the often-tragic consequences of online harassment and image based sexual abuse and the passage into law of this important Bill will ensure that the perpetrators of this vile abuse will be brought to justice,” said Mr Howlin.
Two offences dealing with the non-consensual distribution of intimate images are contained in the legislation. The first makes it an offence to distribute, publish or to threaten to distribute intimate images without consent, and with intent to cause harm to the victim. The punishment carries a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or 7 years’ imprisonment.
The second tackles the taking, distribution or publication of intimate images without a person’s consent. It contains a requirement that the person intended to cause harm to the victim and would carry an offence of a maximum penalty of a €5,000 fine and/or 12 months’ imprisonment.
New research by the Department of Justice shows that one adult in twenty claims to have had an intimate image of themselves shared online or on social media without their consent. One in ten people under the age of thirty seven across the country have had intimate images of themselves been shared online.
The research was carried out as part of the Government’s preparation for an awareness campaign around the sharing of intimate images.
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